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Ultrabooks: Super-thin and lightweight laptops that last all day

Ultrabooks powered by 4th-generation Intel chips will be powerful

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Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook

Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook

Acer

Ultrabooks are super-thin and lightweight Windows laptops--perfect for mobile professionals and travelers. Although they started appearing on retail shelves in the fall of 2011 and there are now dozens of Ultrabooks in various sizes, configurations, and price points, Ultrabooks haven't quite hit their stride yet. That might change in 2013 when Ultrabooks sporting Intel's fourth-generation Haswell processor and more innovative interfaces appear. ~ September 11, 2012

What Intel's Next-Generation Processor, Haswell, Will Bring to Laptops

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on September 11th, Intel presented a sneak peak of its next-generation processor codenamed “Haswell.” The power savings and increased graphics performance over current Ivy Bridge chips are compelling reasons to wait until next year to buy an Ultrabook.

Intel Executive VP David (Dadi) Perlmutter said the 4th-generation Haswell microarchitecture will drive even thinner, lighter, and sleeker laptops than the Ultrabooks we’re seeing in the market today. Ultrabooks already weigh less than four pounds and are less than an eighth of an inch thick, so upcoming laptops will be so thin and light you might not even notice one in your briefcase. The drive towards ever-thinner and ever-sleeker laptops continues.

The low-power chips will operate at about 10 watts and be 20 times more efficient with idle power consumption compared to last year’s Sandy Bridge chips, Intel said. This would offer dramatically longer battery life, even though most Ultrabooks are already designed to last seven or more hours. The new chips might even double laptops' battery life. This means it may finally be possible to use a thin and light laptop for a transcontinental trip--without having to find an outlet or switch out the battery (a good thing always, but especially so because many ultrathin laptops these days, including Ultrabooks and the MacBook Pro Retina, lack replaceable batteries).

In addition to much longer battery life, Haswell laptops may have about twice the GPU performance of those using Ivy Bridge processors, Intel demonstrated with Unigine benchmarks. Haswell can also run at the same performance as Ivy Bridge but at roughly half the power. Ivy Bridge was already a pretty impressive improvement graphics-wise over Intel's second-generation Sandy Bridge, so Haswell’s improvements will be even more important to gamers and those who use graphics applications.

In addition, Intel is adding new hardware-based security features and instructions for faster encryption into the 22nm chips.

New Ultrabook Features for 2013

Although Intel obviously isn’t explicitly telling people not to buy Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks, Perlmutter’s presentation indirectly showed other reasons we might want to hold off on an Ultrabook purchase until 2013. He demonstrated a number of new ways to interact with the laptops: gesture control, 3D cameras with facial recognition, and NFC paypass integration. This means you can ditch the keyboard and trackpad for a bit to wave commands at your laptop, sign in with your face, and tap a credit card to your laptop to instantly pay for an online purchase.

You will be able to talk to your laptop to command it earlier, though. Voice recognition and control via Nuance’s Dragon Assistant will be shipping with Ultrabooks in Q4 this year.

Buy Now or Wait?

Of course there will always be better laptops around the corner, so you can’t wait forever. The best course is to just buy the laptop that meets your requirements when you need one. (There are many Ultrabooks available for under $1,000 today that could meet most mobile computing needs.) However, if that happens to be in 2013 when the next-generation Haswell Ultrabooks come out, that’s all the better.

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